Archive | June, 2012

In Congo, one man equals many lives? Bad math, wrong morals

26 Jun

Words are uniquely human tools – well, generally speaking. And often, we know what they exactly mean. But there is another uniquely human phenomenon – twisting the meaning of ordinary words to give them an unfamiliar ring. Some people have more ability to distort than others. You might call this inverted expertise. For others, distortion is part of their professional rule book.

In the simple, old-fashioned way, what I am describing is called lying. And I was taught that lying is a sin for which we will be punished. If we do a lot of it we might even burn in hell for ever.

Obviously, the catechism on which I was brought up must be different from that on which the international human rights army and UN people were raised. Apparently they have never heard of lying, or if they have, it has a different meaning and moral connotation from what I know.

Which brings me back to words and their meaning. Take the word “justice”, for instance. Ordinarily, it should not cause confusion. It has to do with right and fairness and can never be taken for vindictiveness. And yet when referring to Eastern DRC, this seems to the meaning Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have given it. Certainly, this is what one reads into their actions.

Lately they have renewed their clamour for the arrest and prosecution of a certain Bosco Ntaganda for alleged crimes against humanity. The reason they give for raising the noise is that his arrest and conviction will deliver justice to his alleged victims. Really? Is this the motive? And, pray, how the victims receive justice? I am certain they will get no reparations for what they lost, or counselling to cope with their traumatic experiences. Nor will the maimed, the wounded and the raped receive any treatment, or the orphaned and widowed get any consolation.

But you can be sure there will be a collective smirk of satisfaction on the lips of the rights crusade, and more money in their coffers.

We have said in these pages that if indeed he has committed the crimes for which he is being accused, he should be held accountable. There were many opportunities to arrest him. None was taken. He lived, dined and wined with his accusers, but none touched him.

And now that there is a mutiny started because a peace arrangement the UN and rights groups were supposed to guarantee broke down, they are calling for Ntaganda’s head.

In the single-minded pursuit of one man, they ignore the war raging in the East of DRC. Hundreds of innocent Congolese civilians continue to die at the hands of various armed groups. Hundreds of thousands flee their homes into neighbouring countries. Countless others are displaced. Untold amounts of property have been destroyed. The groups clamouring for justice are silent about these atrocities because all their attention is fixed on one man.

The question that arises from this strange, but not unexpected priority is this: What is the price for going after one man; even he is the most horrible criminal? One million lives? Two, three million? Can such cost be justified in terms of justice or morally?

Let us be blunt. There are unsavoury things happening in DRC, and they are not caused by M23 or Ntaganda. These are only responding to what is going on. What is happening is that there is an attempt to denationalise a section of the Congolese. Our righteous friends are not saying anything about it. Probably they see nothing wrong with it because their catechism did not teach them that forcefully taking away what belongs to another is a sin.

In the extreme, what is happening in Eastern DRC is ethnic cleansing, and if allowed to go unchecked will turn into genocide.

Although the rights brigade want to blame the mess in Congo on other people, they have a big share of the responsibility. In fact they can be said to be responsible for the murder, rape, dispossession and displacement of Congolese civilians.

Again the question: Don’t these people deserve justice? Are their lives so valueless that they can be sacrificed in the hunt for one individual?

Murder is a mortal sin, according to the catechism I was taught. It said nothing about mass murder, but I imagine it must be mortal sin multiplied may times, and the punishment must surely be commensurate with the crime. Going by this, Human Rights Watch activists and others like them should burn many times over for their sins against the Congolese. Then we would say, “justice” has been done” and it will not be a distortion.

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The courts have closed, but Gacaca lives on

18 Jun

Yesterday Gacaca Courts were officially closed. But you can be sure Gacaca won’t go away, either as a concept or as practice. Certainly the debate that the notion of citizens trying fellow citizens and acting as prosecution or defence counsel has generated in the ten years Gacaca courts have been in operation will not end with their closure.

There are several reasons why Gacaca will remain with us.

First, there is what President Paul Kagame mentioned at the closing ceremony – that the Gacaca process, its way of resolving conflict, will live on because it is part of Rwandan heritage, and because in practice the people have come to believe in it. Indeed the Inyangamugayo who acted as judges have earned so much respect that their communities call upon them for advice on numerous other issues.

Dr Phil Clark, who has researched Gacaca for nine years, reports that the proven ability of Inyangamugayo to mediate conflict and provide wise counsel has given them another role in the community as unofficial counsellors and mediators.

Second, Gacaca marks two important, contradictory but also in many ways complementary, aspects of our history. It is inevitably linked to the most tragic and painful period – the genocide in 1994 – and most people will see it in exclusively that connection.

But it has also served to reveal the depth and strength of character of the Rwandan people. We had to dig deep into our resources to come up with a workable solution to the immense problems the genocide caused. We had to stand firm against criticism and opposition from powerful quarters – from international human rights groups, some governments, lawyers’ associations, genocide deniers and a host of other lobby groups.

The successful operation and closure of the courts in the face of such strong opposition was a test of our courage and conviction. It is also both vindication and proof of the resolve of Rwandans in matters affecting our very existence as a nation. In this sense, the success of Gacaca will be to many Rwandans a badge of courage we can proudly wear and show off.

Another reason why Gacaca won’t go away is again what the president said yesterday. Its significance went beyond rendering justice and reconciliation.

The level of our current socio-economic progress is traceable to good governance that is itself a result of the enabling environment created by the success of Gacaca.

Nothing gives one a sense of worth as deciding on something, doing it and succeeding especially in the face of strong odds. That, Gacaca has done.

In the various discussions on Gacaca one rarely hears mention of its democratising influence. Yet an important legacy of Gacaca is the opportunity it has given citizens to participate in open forum in discussing very important local and national matters. President Kagame called this empowerment whose effect has been the opening up of the so-called political space. Unfortunately, critics of Gacaca ignore this democratic dividend of Gacaca.

However, regardless of these obvious benefits to Rwandans, Gacaca is bound to remain a subject of controversy. Legal formalists will continue to question it, despite the evidence that it has worked. Human rights groups will never accept anything that undermines their reason for existence – quite understandably. We can therefore expect that these groups will debate it for a long time to come.

And for some reason, everything Rwandan seems to raise controversy. Perhaps it is because we are going against type and chalking up successes, however modest.

You see, the image of a typical African country created over decades is that of a weak state, beholden to others for its very survival. Failure is fast tagged on Africa.

When you reject the label and tear it off and create an unfamiliar image, you become a subject of criticism. Somehow what you are doing must be wrong and cannot work. You cannot and must not be allowed to create your own image. Every effort will be made to find holes in whatever it is you are doing. And if they are not there, they will be punched.

Those who have arrogated themselves the right to make our image will refuse to see anything good from our actions. And so they will continue to make holes in Gacaca. This has been Rwanda’s lot in recent times and will no doubt remain so.

There will continue to be beneficiaries of Gacaca outside Rwanda. Many people have built careers in academia and the media on Gacaca. This won’t change. More will earn their PhDs from researching this novel and unfamiliar conflict resolution mechanism. Their work will be made easier by a large body of documents now available in one place.

And so, yes, Gacaca will not go away, and regardless of whatever happens next, it is clear that Rwanda has made a major contribution to legal history and conflict resolution. For this, and many other reasons, it lives on.

Who gains from the conflict in DRC?

12 Jun

As so often happens with events in the DRC, fact and fiction fuse into a sticky mess that has come to define the history of that country.  And there seems to be a preference for fiction over fact.

This is the case now with regard to the fighting in Eastern DRC in which Rwanda has been implicated. A web of lies – not particularly clever – has been woven around the fighting in the area. Incredibly, these third rate lies, unverified claims and clearly fabricated tales have been picked up and spread by media organisations hitherto thought to be beyond reproach in their reporting. Because of this the lies have been passed off as truth..

As I said in this column last week, the DRC has the history of being the graveyard of many reputations. And once reputations have died and been buried in the Congo, any attempts at revival and redemption end up having them buried deeper. If you doubt this ask the United Nations.

Media organisations are no exception to being strangled in the DRC. This will be the inevitable consequence for disseminating lies as people begin to reassess their credibility. The reputation for impartiality, objectivity and thoroughness associated with some of them will disappear, or if not, will be severely damaged.

Naturally in an atmosphere of lies, truth is nearly always completely smothered. Again this is the case in the DRC. The same media organisations that jump at the latest made-up allegations suddenly become silent when confronted with facts contradicting the lies.

For instance, MONUSCO’s rather belated denial that it ever produced a report naming Rwanda as supporting the M23 rebels has received scant coverage. So have the consistent denials by the Government of Rwanda about its alleged backing of the rebels. Perhaps more telling is the total disregard for the findings of a Joint Verification Team made up of Rwandan and DRC officials.

Clearly, there is something sinister here. And who stands to gain from it all? Apparently there are many.

One of the oldest tricks in the book to divert attention from oneself is to direct blame at other people. Equally, one of the most effective ways to get anyone to do what you want is to get them when they are at their weakest and therefore most vulnerable.

It is common knowledge that the government of the DRC has been under sustained pressure since the last presidential and general elections in that country. Both were reported to have been massively flawed.

But why a country with an incredible abundance of natural wealth should in the first place hold out its hands to donors beats all logic. Why it should cower before them is utterly incomprehensible. If I were the DRC government I would make them sing and dance and stand on their heads before they can lay their hands on my precious wealth.

Again, despite its enormous wealth and huge foreign support and the goodwill of neighbours like Rwanda, the government has failed to establish effective control over its entire territory. And no satisfactory explanation can be advanced for this dismal failure.

The lazy way out of multiple failures is to look for a convenient fall guy, and for a variety of reasons, Rwanda is the most convenient.

There are other elements interested in muddying the waters of the Congo so as to hide their responsibility for the mess in the wider Great Lakes Region. The current violence in Eastern DRC can be traced to the coming into the area of armed ex-FAR and Interahamwe. These forces were shepherded there and continued to be armed by some in the international community. That support for their genocidal protégés has not stopped.

A key player in the Congo has been a coalition of NGOs, mostly in the human rights movement, led by Human Rights Watch. Ironically their existence depends on the continuation of conflict. And to carry on their work, they need funds, and to get them, must justify their existence – which is the continued presence of violence. So we come full circle.

In addition, the NGO movement harbours a grudge against Rwanda for refusing them the opportunity to set up as alternatives to the state and thereby keeping the country in perpetual dependence to hand-outs.

They behave like a jilted partner in a love relationship gone sour – never giving up hope of reconciliation, but also doing everything possible to wreck the life of the other partner.

And let’s face it. The Cold War may have ended, but not so the rivalry between East and West. We see it everywhere in the world where there is conflict these days. It is present where there is competition for resources, and the Congo is a classic case.

In the Nineteenth Century control of the two Congos by Europeans triggered the Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa among them. Today’s continued rivalry over Africa’s resources will ensure that the continent remains partitioned and impoverished and therefore easy to exploit. What easier way to do this than keep us in perpetual conflict – and especially keep down those attempting to raise their heads.

Who gains from conflict in DRC?

11 Jun

As so often happens with events in the DRC, fact and fiction fuse into a sticky mess that has come to define the history of that country. And there seems to be a preference for fiction over fact.
This is the case now with regard to the fighting in Eastern DRC in which Rwanda has been implicated. A web of lies – not particularly clever – has been woven around the fighting in the area. Incredibly, these third rate lies, unverified claims and clearly fabricated tales have been picked up and spread by media organisations hitherto thought to be beyond reproach in their reporting. Because of this the lies have been passed off as truth..
As I said in this column last week, the DRC has the history of being the graveyard of many reputations. And once reputations have died and been buried in the Congo, any attempts at revival and redemption end up having them buried deeper. If you doubt this ask the United Nations.
Media organisations are no exception to being strangled in the DRC. This will be the inevitable consequence for disseminating lies as people begin to reassess their credibility. The reputation for impartiality, objectivity and thoroughness associated with some of them will disappear, or if not, will be severely damaged.
Naturally in an atmosphere of lies, truth is nearly always completely smothered. Again this is the case in the DRC. The same media organisations that jump at the latest made-up allegations suddenly become silent when confronted with facts contradicting the lies.
For instance, MONUSCO’s rather belated denial that it ever produced a report naming Rwanda as supporting the M23 rebels has received scant coverage. So have the consistent denials by the Government of Rwanda about its alleged backing of the rebels. Perhaps more telling is the total disregard for the findings of a Joint Verification Team made up of Rwandan and DRC officials.
Clearly, there is something sinister here. And who stands to gain from it all? Apparently there are many.
One of the oldest tricks in the book to divert attention from oneself is to direct blame at other people. Equally, one of the most effective ways to get anyone to do what you want is to get them when they are at their weakest and therefore most vulnerable.
It is common knowledge that the government of the DRC has been under sustained pressure since the last presidential and general elections in that country. Both were reported to have been massively flawed.
But why a country with an incredible abundance of natural wealth should in the first place hold out its hands to donors beats all logic. Why it should cower before them is utterly incomprehensible. If I were the DRC government I would make them sing and dance and stand on their heads before they can lay their hands on my precious wealth.
Again, despite its enormous wealth and huge foreign support and the goodwill of neighbours like Rwanda, the government has failed to establish effective control over its entire territory. And no satisfactory explanation can be advanced for this dismal failure.
The lazy way out of multiple failures is to look for a convenient fall guy, and for a variety of reasons, Rwanda is the most convenient.
There are other elements interested in muddying the waters of the Congo so as to hide their responsibility for the mess in the wider Great Lakes Region. The current violence in Eastern DRC can be traced to the coming into the area of armed ex-FAR and Interahamwe. These forces were shepherded there and continued to be armed by some in the international community. That support for their genocidal protégés has not stopped.
A key player in the Congo has been a coalition of NGOs, mostly in the human rights movement, led by Human Rights Watch. Ironically their existence depends on the continuation of conflict. And to carry on their work, they need funds, and to get them, must justify their existence – which is the continued presence of violence. So we come full circle.
In addition, the NGO movement harbours a grudge against Rwanda for refusing them the opportunity to set up as alternatives to the state and thereby keeping the country in perpetual dependence to hand-outs.
They behave like a jilted partner in a love relationship gone sour – never giving up hope of reconciliation, but also doing everything possible to wreck the life of the other partner.
And let’s face it. The Cold War may have ended, but not so the rivalry between East and West. We see it everywhere in the world where there is conflict these days. It is present where there is competition for resources, and the Congo is a classic case.
In the Nineteenth Century control of the two Congos by Europeans triggered the Berlin Conference that partitioned Africa among them. Today’s continued rivalry over Africa’s resources will ensure that the continent remains partitioned and impoverished and therefore easy to exploit. What easier way to do this than keep us in perpetual conflict – and especially keep down those attempting to raise their heads.

When Kurtz, UN and Human Rights Watch met in Congo

4 Jun

Joseph Conrad was not just a great writer; he must have been a witch as well. He based his little novel, The Heart of Darkness, in Congo and see what that richly endowed country has become – a veritable heart of darkness. It is like it carries a curse that forbids its people from enjoying its immense wealth. At the same time, the curse attracts foreigners of every hue – idealists and charlatans, revolutionaries and mercenaries, fortune seekers like Kurtz and vultures of every sort to enforce obedience to it.

Kurtz died there. Others after him have suffered a similar fate. So have reputations – none more so than that of the United Nations and human rights organisations. Unfortunately truth also dies there.

The latest casualty in the land of Conrad’s curse is international justice. For reasons hard to believe, the International Criminal Court (ICC) basically dismissed charges against Ignace Murwanashyaka and Sylvestre Mudacumura, the political and military leaders of the FDLR – a known terrorist organisation. The plea of insufficient evidence against the two men is simply outrageous.

Perhaps this was to be expected. The trial of the duo who have ordered their men to commit the most horrendous crimes in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could have revealed the complicity, past and present, of some powerful individuals and countries in the atrocities. And so better to protect the accomplices and subvert the cause of justice.

Which goes to show whose interests the ICC and similar courts actually serve. That they serve justice – end impunity and redress victims’ woes – is a myth. It is increasingly clear that so-called international justice is merely an instrument of the foreign policy of some countries.

Less expected, at any rate by those of us who are naive enough to believe in the universal respect for human rights, has been the resounding silence of such organisations as Human Rights Watch to the freeing of Murwanashyaka and refusal to have Mudacumura arrested.

Human Rights Watch has built its reputation as a crusader for people’s rights everywhere.They usually shout themselves hoarse about alleged abuses of human rights – especially in the developing countries. In the recent past, they have been baying for the blood of such people as General Bosco Ntaganda of the DRC purportedly for recruiting child soldiers when he fought in Ituri Province in DRC in the 1990s.

But inexplicably, Human Rights Watch are silent about the reported lack of evidence against Murwanashyaka and Mudacumura.

Their person in the DRC, Ms Anneke Van Woudenberg, has been stumping the eastern part of the country for almost as long as the FDLR has been there. For all that time she has not documented the atrocities this terrorist organisation has visited on the Congolese people. Incredible. The whole time she has been there she has not collected eye witness accounts of some of the worst violations of human rights in history. Astounding.

Yet the same Woudenberg who cannot see the horrors of the FDLR has, in a feat of unusual energy, amassed what she calls “overwhelming” evidence of Rwanda’s support to M23, an organisation that is barely two months old. It is simply unbelievable.

Maybe her memory and judgement have been impaired by Conrad’s witchcraft, Kurtz’ ghost and the darkness both have created in the hearts of her type. And, of course, her reputation and that of Human Rights Watch have suffered a similar fate.

The plea of lack of evidence against the two terrorists is difficult to believe for another reason.

The United Nations, through, first MONUC and now MONUSCO, has boots on the ground all over Eastern DRC. They have noses following every scent and should be able to smell the blood and rotting flesh of victims of the FDLR. Presumably, they have ears and do hear the anguished cries of people under machete attacks, of the hundreds of women gang-raped by Mudacumura’s men and of children and old men unable to escape from their burning houses. They have eyes and are capable of seeing the gruesome sights, and lips to tell the horrors, unspeakable though they are.

But no, MONUSCO have seen nothing, heard nothing and not been revolted by the stench of decomposing bodies, the buzzing swarm of green flies bloated from an oversupply of dead human beings. They have not been touched by the dead, blank expressions in the eyes of the traumatised women and children. And so there is no sufficient evidence to link Mudacumura and Murwanashyaka to these horrors.

Yet in far away Ituri, at a time when the UN had no presence there, there is enough evidence to convict Thomas Lubanga and indict Bosco Ntaganda.

I suppose this is also due to Kurtz’ ghost and the spell of the Congo on foreigners. In the real world, away from spirits and witchcraft, it must be the result of greed and the power that comes with it and overturns the scale of values. It is the legacy of Kurtz.